Ruse is Suspected at Guantanamo
By David S. Cloud and Neil A. Lewis
June 11 -Three detainees at the United States military
prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, tried to conceal
themselves in their cells - behind laundry and through
other means - to prevent guards from seeing them
commit suicide, a senior military official said
Bantz J. Craddock, commander
of the United States Southern Command, at a news
conference on Saturday addressing the suicides of
three prisoners at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Yasser Talal Abdulah
Yahya al-Zahrani, one of the detainees
who committed suicide early Saturday.
of the prisoners hanged himself behind laundry drying
from the ceiling of the cell, and had arranged his
bed to make it look as if he was still sleeping,
said the official, Lt. Cmdr. Robert T. Durand of
the Navy. The other two detainees who committed
suicide also took steps to prevent guards from seeing
that they had put nooses around their necks, he
deception by the prisoners raises questions about
how long it took military guards to discover the
bodies. Regulations at Guantánamo call for guards
to check on each inmate every two minutes.
officials said one focus of an investigation into
the suicides would be the need for procedural changes,
like barring prisoners from doing laundry in their
Bantz J. Craddock of the
Army, who oversees Guantánamo as commander of the
United States Southern Command, told reporters on
Sunday that the investigation into the deaths "kind
of boils down to two things: Are the procedures
that you have in place adequate, and then were the
procedures followed to the standards?"
Pentagon identified the three detainees as two Saudis,
Mani bin Shaman bin Turki
al-Habardi, 30, and Yasser
Talal Abdulah Yahya al-Zahrani, 22, and a Yemeni, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 33.
around the world seemed muted, though the Liberal
Democratic Leader in Britain,
Sir Menzies Campbell,
said he was thinking about touring Guantánamo and
repeated his criticism of the policy of detaining
suspects without sending them to trial.
in the United
States said little, apparently
concerned about appearing to be sympathizing with
detainees who could turn out to have significant
House officials described the three men as committed
terrorists, and military officials said that none
had been among the handful of prisoners whose cases
had been brought before military commissions for
Pentagon released a statement describing Mr. Ahmed,
the Yemeni, as a "mid to high-level Al Qaeda
operative" who was close to Abu al-Zubaydah, a senior figure for Al Qaeda who has since been
captured. The statement also said that Mr. Habardi
was a member of a terrorist group that recruits
for Al Qaeda, and had been recommended for transfer
to another country, presumably Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon
said that Mr. Zahrani
had been "a frontline fighter for the Taliban"
and had participated in the prison uprising in 2001
at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan that resulted
in the death of Johnny Micheal
Spann, a C.I.A. operative.
suicides renew the question of what the Bush administration
will do with the detention center at Guantánamo,
which President Bush has told interviewers recently
that he would like to close at some point in the
timing appears postponed, however.
can't have a final disposition about Guantánamo
until the Supreme Court has ruled on the Hamdan
case," said Tony Snow, the White House spokesman,
referring to a pending decision on whether detainees
at Guantánamo may be tried as war criminals before
military commissions and whether they may challenge
their detentions in federal courts.
officials said they had translated notes left by
the prisoners, but the officials refused to describe
the contents of the messages. All three men were
in the same cellblock in 6-by-8-foot cells that
were not adjoining but had wire-mesh walls, which
might have enabled them to communicate, officials
by telephone from the Saudi holy city of Medina, Talal Abdallah al-Zahrani, 50, the father
of Mr. Zahrani, said that
when he heard from his son in a recent letter, he
sounded in good spirits and appeared to be more
optimistic than before about being released soon.
suggested that he would commit suicide, nothing,"
Mr. Zahrani said.
said that the account of his son's suicide was "100
son was 17 in 2001 when he was apprehended in Afghanistan, where he worked with Islamic charities,
he said. He had memorized the Koran since his imprisonment
and said he had been behaving, Mr. Zahrani
Zahrani said hundreds
of people attended a wake for his son on Sunday
night after he had received word of his death from
Saudi authorities. His comments about the turnout
of mourners underscored the possibility that the
return of the bodies to Saudi
Arabia and Yemen - should the government allow it - could
turn into anti-American events.
Daskal, advocacy director
for Human Rights Watch, said Sunday that the three
suicides "are an indication of the incredible
despair that the prisoners are experiencing"
after many of them have been "completely cut
off from the world."
comments were echoed by other critics as well.
Craddock speculated that the suicides may have been
timed to affect the Supreme Court decision on the
may be an attempt to influence the judicial proceedings
in that perspective," he told reporters, according
to a transcript of his comments during a brief visit
to Guantánamo on Sunday.
investigation into how the three prisoners were
able to hang themselves and whether changes in procedures
are necessary will be conducted by the commander
of the prison, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris.
will be an after-action report that will look at
whether there was failure of S.O.P.'s
or adequate S.O.P.'s that were not followed," said Lieutenant Commander
Durand, using the military acronym for standard
inquiry will probably look at whether procedures
requiring guards to observe prisoners at least every
two minutes were followed the night of the suicides.
Until now, prison officials have voiced confidence
that the safeguards were adequate, pointing to the
fact that despite dozens of attempted suicides in
the last four years, none had been successful.
will now collect bed linens every morning to prevent
prisoners from secretly making nooses, Lieutenant
Commander Durand said. In addition to possibly revoking
permission for detainees to do their own laundry,
prison officials are looking at withholding toiletries
and other items that might be used in suicide attempts,
got to determine and find the balance between the
comfort items that we would like to provide and
the point at which comfort items in the possession
of a few determined detainees will be turned into
something that could contribute to taking their
lives," General Craddock said.
have been recent signs of growing unrest among the
prisoners, including an episode in May in which
at least two prisoners attempted suicide and another
was said to have faked a suicide to lure guards
into an ambush.
Guantánamo officers said some prisoners had spread
the idea of suicide, claiming to have had visions
that the prison would not be closed until after
three prisoners had died, a possible explanation
for the decision by the three men to kill themselves
at the same time.
Yee, a former Islamic chaplain at Guantánamo, said
the suicides signaled "an important failure
Yee, who served at Guantánamo when the first of
41 previous suicide attempts occurred said, "The
military guards on the block are supposed to check
each detainee visually every two minutes or so."
suicide attempt that came closest to being successful,
involving a Saudi schoolteacher who was arrested
in Pakistan, where he had attended a militant training
camp, was foiled by those procedures, he said.
least one guard would have to walk up and down the
corridor," he said. "That saved the Saudi
detainee. who was in a
coma for months." Although the Saudi detainee
was not expected to survive, he recovered and has
since been sent home.
Yee, a West Point graduate,
was arrested on suspicion of espionage but the charges
were dropped. He left the Army after being found
guilty of minor infractions and amid overwhelming
evidence that the suspicions of espionage were groundless.
Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer
representing Jumah Dossari, a Guantánamo inmate
who has attempted suicide numerous times, said he
had been told that guards were expected to keep
close watch on prisoners, observing them every 30
seconds. But he said the procedures were difficult
to follow in practice.
visiting his client last November, he said he found
Mr. Dossari in a bathroom trying to hang himself and slit his
wrists. Even though a video camera had been installed
in the bathroom, Mr. Colangelo-Bryan said guards did not respond until he called
the Bush administration has been under pressure
-from the United Nations, European countries and
the International Committee of the Red Cross about
the Guantánamo detention center, White House officials
did not indicate that they viewed the suicides as
a major political problem. The State Department
alerted American embassies in Europe and the Middle
East, and asked them to contact government officials.
But White House officials said Mr. Bush did not
make calls to world leaders.
haven't heard much response," one senior official
United Nations was also notified of the suicides,
the White House said. The U.N.'s Human Rights Commission
declined to visit the detention center last year
after the Bush administration refused to allow commission
members to interview or talk with detainees.
E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington
for this article,Hassan
M. Fattah from France,
and Alan Cowell from London.